STEP Relfection: Constru Casa Guatemala (Matt Thomsen)

Matt Thomsen

Service Learning and Community Service

1. My STEP Signature Project was a partnered Buckiserv trip with Constu Casa Guatemala. I travelled with a group of eleven students and one faculty advisor to Antigua, Guatemala to work with local masons and families in constructing basic housing for families facing extreme poverty. As a group, we constructed two houses for two separate families in the span of a week with the help of masons hired by Constru Casa and family members from the families for which we were building the houses.

2. When I thought of extreme poverty, I saw pictures in my head of what I thought it might be. I have seen documentaries detailing the impact it had on the lives of those experiencing it. I had never experienced what it might look like firsthand, however, and this Project opened my eyes to what poverty really looks like, and what I thought about it changed entirely. When I thought of poverty here, I never thought about anything I came across in Guatemala. My entire perspective changed when I first saw the site at which we would be working.

There were what barely qualified as houses crammed into each other, with only two-foot-wide hallways separating one house from another. The interior flooring of the houses was not flooring, just dirt. There was basic plumbing, but the water was not drinkable. The particular house we built was no larger than two dorm rooms put together, maybe even smaller. The entire site was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced, and it opened my eyes to what poverty really looks like around the world today. This trip challenged me to continue giving back to the world in any way I can, and to always encourage others to open their eyes to the difficulties the world faces every day.

3. The most important relationship I gained from this trip was that between the host family and me. The children for which we built the house were wholesome and grateful for all of the work we were doing. On our second to last day, the children who were normally around us the entire day, disappeared for an hour or two. The suddenly reappeared with thank you notes and random gifts they could scrounge up from what they had. It was one of the most selfless acts I had ever experienced. These children, who had little to no wealth to their name, found wealth in our visit and in their everyday lives. Even with close to nothing, they still were willing to give anything to complete strangers.

The masons hired by Constru Casa were remarkable. They awoke before the sun rose to drive an hour to the site and start working an hour or two before we arrived. They worked nonstop throughout the day, taking only one break at lunch to eat. The work was physically and mentally challenging, but they showed no quit. They told us that they had finished 5 houses in 22 days before starting this house. To put that into perspective, it took them four days to complete the house we worked on, even with our help. These men also bought us all snacks on the last day to thank us for helping them, using money they might instead need to buy food for the evening.

These interactions and relationships made me realize what was really important in life. The value of what you have is not based on how much you have. The value of things in life is placed on what those things mean to you. You can be living in poverty for your entire life and never feel poor. The children showed me that even though they live in poverty, their still rich in happiness. The masons showed me the meaning of truly hard work, and forced me to push myself harder in every facet of my life. These are lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

4. Personally, I hope to be consistently involved in bettering the communities around the world, and this trip inspired me to stay true to this goal. I hope to push myself to work harder than anybody around me, and seeing how hard the masons worked, I now know how hard I must work. I hope to hold wholesome relationships with the people around me, and the children showed me what that really means. I hope to stay true to what I set forth for myself, and this trip is the beginning of that commitment.

Buck-I-SERV: Ghana, The Akumanyi Foundation

For my STEP Signature Project I was able to go to Ghana to help out at an Orphanage. We learned about the culture in Ghana while also giving back to the community in Akokwa.  Through The Akumanyi Foundation, we were able to make connections with not only the orphanage, but also the other projects they are working on in Ghana including: the water project and the seamstress project.

One of the most profound parts of this experience was not only going to a new country but going to a new continent.  As an American, it is easy to make assumptions about 3rd world countries – especially African countries.  Going to Ghana made me realize that the world isn’t as big as it seems.  The kids that I was able to spend time with knew so much about the world and that was inspiring to see.  Very young kids were able to communicate with us in English. Many of them spoke English, French, their local dialogue and could also understand the national language of Ghana.  Their passion for learning was something that you don’t see everyday in America.  It made me realize how many times I have taken my education for granted.  This experience made me much more grateful.  I also now have a deep desire to travel to more countries in Africa

I was able to develop my outlook on the Ghanaian culture through the children we were working with. We spent most of our days with the kids.  They loved teaching us about their culture.  Just being able to interact with them everyday made me aware of what their needs are.  They were lucky enough to get three meals a day, which is more than most of the other families in their area.  However, they did not have access to basic medicines that they need day by day.  Things like Band-Aids, Neosporin, and Motrin are very hard to come by in Ghana. This was eye opening because I did not expect the need for Band-Aids to be that great.

During the first weekend, we had the opportunity to go to the Slave Castle in Cape Coast.  There we took a tour of an actual facility used to hold Ghanaian people before they were forcefully removed from their country.  Although in Elementary School we learn about slavery in American History, but being at the exact location where this happened was life changing.

The experiences and conversations that I had in Ghana will be with me for the rest of my life.  I met so many incredible people and I hope that one day I can go back.  I think I was most affected by what they actually need there versus what Western countries think African countries need.  They need very basic things and as 1st world countries it is our responsibility to help them meet these simple needs.

This transformation is significant for my life because I now know how easy it is to help. You don’t need to have a lot of money to help out and give back.  In the future I hope to have more opportunities to make change for societies that are in need.  I want more people to be aware of the impact they can have just by spending time with new people.

When we were there, we painted one of the classrooms at the orphanage.  The walls were unpainted and the building looked like cement slabs on the outside.  We were able to paint the entire room with planets, flowers, animals, and numbers.  The kids were so excited.  It only took us a few cans of paint and a few days to make a difference.

Buck-I-Serv and OAC: Costa Rica

For my STEP project, I chose to attend a Buck-I-Serv/OAC international trip to Costa Rica. The outdoor adventure portion of the trip included lots of hiking, learning to surf, rafting, exploring a cave, and rappelling down a 90 foot waterfall. We also did community service in the small town of Brujo, where we assisted the community in building a bathroom by mixing concrete and plastering walls.

Even though I was only in Costa Rica for ten days, I feel that I really transformed and grew as a person. We truly got a cultural experience, as we stayed in Costa Rican family’s homes. It was eye-opening to experience a culture that was so different from ours. I particularly appreciate how minimally they live regarding material things; their living rooms did not have much more than a couch and a television, and all they had in their shower was a bar of soap and a single bottle of shampoo for the entire family to use. These seem like very small differences, but I could not help but notice how happy these people are with what they have. Also, they are almost entirely self-sufficient, as they build their own houses and do the majority of the maintenance on their homes themselves. Their families are extremely close, as well as their communities. It was so refreshing to experience community where every one is friendly and welcoming. After being immersed in another culture for ten days, I learned how to appreciate the differences in other cultures; I also learned how I can improve my own life here in the U.S.

During the entire ten days in Costa Rica, I did not use my phone once (not even for pictures). It was very refreshing to not be engrossed in social media to see what my friends were doing for New Years, or constantly checking my email in preparation for the semester. Through this, I truly lived in the moment, which is something I have never been able to do before. I learned to be less uptight and truly enjoy what was going on around me. It was amazing how much more beautiful the views were when I wasn’t looking at them through my phone’s camera. In addition, not using my phone at all allowed me to really get to know the other people on the trip. I wasn’t responding to a text every two minutes during a conversation; I truly got to know the other people on the trip without constantly being interrupted. This is extremely important to me, as I am typically a very introverted person, so not using my phone allowed me to really be able to make friends.

I think being out of my comfort zone in general has led me to grow throughout my trip to Costa Rica. Prior to this trip, I never would have imagined myself staying with a family that I had never met before, especially a family from a different culture who speaks primarily Spanish. Even though the children of my host family didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Spanish, I still learned how to communicate and form relationships with them. It was truly an amazing experience to form relationships with people who could not even speak the same language as me. I learned that being put in new situations is the only way to grow as a person. For me, this trip was definitely out of my comfort zone during the first few days, as I was immersed in a different culture with fifteen other Americans who I barely knew. However, by the end of the trip, I didn’t want to leave.

Our tour guides, Manos and Abraham, made our trip particularly special. I can definitely say with confidence that our trip would not have been the same without them. They were very welcoming and treated us as if they had known us for years. They were always so upbeat and engaging and their personalities balanced each other out very well. They really showed us how to appreciate the self-sufficiency in Costa Rica. We made brown sugar and tortillas with their family, and were treated as if we were a part of the family. By the end of the trip, we were all so sad to be leaving for the U.S. without Manos and Abraham. I also feel that this trip would not have been the same if it had been with a different group of people, as we all became friends very quickly. I really enjoyed getting to know each person on the trip so well, and I hope that we can continue to remain close here at OSU.

In addition to experiencing a different culture and building relationships, the adventure portion of this trip played a huge part in my transformation. Going into this trip, most of the adventure activities were out of my comfort zone. I am terrified of heights, so rappelling down a 90 foot waterfall was a huge accomplishment. I was uncomfortable with it at first, but I ended up really enjoying the experience. I was also nervous to surf. It took a lot of patience, but after many failed attempts I finally was able to successfully stand up on the board. We hiked a lot more on this trip than I had expected, which was extremely physically challenging but rewarding when we finally finished. Therefore, the adventure portion of this trip transformed me because I was continuously stepping out of my comfort zone and challenging myself.

Lastly, the service portion of this trip was also transformational. It was so eye opening to see how self-sufficient the people living in the countryside of Costa Rica are. They make their own concrete, which is a much more physically demanding process than I could have imagined. We spent multiple days hauling heavy sandbags across a river, mixing concrete, plastering walls, and laying bricks. It was so physically demanding that I was more sore after the service portion of the trip than I was from the adventures. It really opened my eyes to how hard working and dedicated the people in the small town of Brujo are to their community.

This trip was transformational for me on so many levels, and it has definitely impacted my outlook on life. I realized that stepping out of my comfort zone may not be enjoyable at first, but doing so pushes me to grow as a person. I think this trip will encourage me to try new things here at Ohio State that I would not normally have done in the past. Putting myself out there can even include small, daily activities, such as going out of my way to talk to new people. I also realized the importance of appreciating what I have; the natives in Costa Rica did not necessarily have many material objects, but they were so much happier than most Americans are. I think this stems from the strong family relationships and the sense of community they have there. This has definitely taught me the importance of placing more value on my relationships rather than material objects, because material objects will not bring happiness in the long run.

After going to Costa Rica, I realize how much I enjoy being immersed in new cultures. Traveling abroad is something that I would definitely like to continue once I graduate college. This trip also reiterated my love for service, as I really enjoyed helping the community of Brujo improve their community center. I plan to travel on more Buck-I-Serv trips so that I can continue my passion for service. I am also planning to continue serving after I graduate by becoming involved in the community where I work. Overall, my Costa Rica Buck-I-Serv experience was amazing! I feel that I really grew as a person throughout this trip and made many close friends.

Service at the community center in Brujo

Our group during the first hike

Buck-I-SERV Antigua, Guatemala

For my STEP Signature Project, I went on a service trip in Antigua, Guatemala from December 16th-23th 2017 through Buck-I-SERV. During the trip I collaborated with Constru Casa to help build a house for an underprivileged and well-deserving family. Additionally, we explored cultural aspects of Guatemala including Lake Atitlan and the Volcano Pacaya and I bonded/reflected with my Buck-I-SERV group over the experiences.

I believe this trip helped ground everyone and helped me come to realization of what is important. Through the motions of everyday life and routine, we forget how truly privileged we actually are. Our troubles seem like mountains when something goes wrong but we forget that other people are barely making enough to make ends meet, don’t have a roof over their heads every night and need help to get out of that rut. Humans have so much power to help each other and if we are able to help provide underprivileged families with the means of moving forward, we should do what we can. For example, on our trip we split into two groups and each built a house. This house is not only earthquake proof, but also provides the families with an address to help them get a job. Everyone has something to offer whether or not they are physical rich and it was incredible to see people with so little want to give us so much.

There was also a cultural transformation that was formed or found again. A lot of Guatemala reminded me of India. I’ve only been to India a couple of times in my life but there were a lot of similar things in both countries. For example, both places have lots of stray dogs roaming the streets, use rickshaws for travel and have similar close knit communities and families. Their simple lifestyle reminded me of how important family is and that they are the ones that will always be there. I learned a lot about myself as well in regards to my ability to open up and try to things and be open to change.

To begin, our main priority during the trip was the service project of building a house for a family. The house we built was a rectangular space that was split into two rooms. One room for the parents and one room for the two little boys. There was also a window in each room that looked out at another wall. I remember when one of the little boys was talking to me and was super excited about having a window in his room. All I could think about was that the window looked out at absolutely nothing. Something as little as a window meant so much to them. Similarly, one of the kids’ older cousin, who is 16, is currently training to be a mason so he helped us build the house. We were able to provide him with an extra pair of work gloves and he carried them around with him everywhere he went. Even one of the little boys noticed and was telling me about how it was nice of us to give gloves to his cousin. Everyone is the area we built the house lived so close to each other. Every day the two boys would play with all their cousins who lived nearby. Their grandparents also lived with them and took care of them since the parents were at work. Watching their family dynamic reminded me of mine, since my grandma lives with us and my cousins are basically my siblings. It also made me realize that I take them for granted sometimes and I should not.

Furthermore, I learned a lot about my strength. Coming into the project originally, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to help as much as the others, since I’m not physically very strong. All of the work we did was very labor intensive. Nevertheless, my group kept me going each day and everyone was so accommodating to each other’s level of strength. We all pushed ourselves a little bit, but never did more than we thought we could handle. It was important to remember to ask for help, otherwise someone could have gotten hurt. I was also able to build my mental strength through our work days because sometimes it would get to a point where I thought I could not keep working because I was too tired or because the task was too difficult. I had to keep reminding myself of our purpose. I was also fortunate enough to play with the kids at our work site during lunch breaks and they appreciated it so much. After the first day we all played together, the kids tried to give us their sunglasses, DVDs and other gifts. It was inspiring to see their generosity even when they didn’t have much to begin with. We gave them the objects back but the best part was that they also made us cards. My card said that they were thankful that we played with them and that they loved us. This card was so pure and innocent because they were more occupied with the time we spent with them instead of the fact that we were building a house for them.

Moreover, as a Spanish minor, I was really excited to be in a Spanish-speaking country. I was able to communicate with all of the masons, tour guides, families, waiters and strangers in the beautiful country. It was fun to communicate in another language and understand them. I cannot image walking up to the view that Guatemalans do every morning but it was beautiful. There are so many volcanoes and we had the experience of being able to hike up one of them and toast a marshmallow at the top. Additionally, we went to Lake Atitlan on our first full day and every single member of our group went cliff jumping from 10 meters. This was a thrilling moment and since I’m afraid of heights it definitely took me out of my comfort zone. This particular experience was very special because none of us really knew each other yet but we all still took a leap of faith into the lake.

This trip was special because of the people who were chosen to go. Although it may sound a bit selfish, this experience is one that I will never forget because of the friendships I made on the trip. We were all very different and would not have necessarily run into each other on campus; nevertheless, everyone was so open to new experiences, ideas and most importantly to each other. The whole trip consisted of positivity and everyone motivating each other. As cliché as is sounds, these students helped me love life again and realize that even though we are all different, we all had a passion of helping others and each brought a unique trait to the group.

Everyone in the group helped emphasize the importance of always being helpful and open to new things. I am going to take these lessons and passion for service with me in the future. My goal is to become an empathetic physician and so strengthening my passion of helping others was very important. Also, I will be sure to continue traveling and learning about cultures in the future to make myself a more well-rounded person.

Buck-I-SERV & OAC: Costa Rica

For my STEP Signature Project, I attended an international Buck-I-SERV trip in partnership with the Outdoor Adventure Center to Costa Rica. This trip included homestays with wonderful families through the company, Autentico Adventures, and our guides, Manos and Abraham, stayed with my group for the entirety of the trip. We went hiking, caving, rafting, waterfall rappelling, surfing and so much more on this 11 day trip in addition to helping finish building a community center where Manos and Abraham lived.

While on this trip, I learned how much stronger I am than I originally thought. This trip was the most physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing 11 days that I have ever endured before. Not only was I amongst strangers in my group in a foreign country, but there was a language barrier as well with all of the locals I interacted with in the community. I have not taken a Spanish class since AP Spanish my junior year of high school, so my Spanish was pretty rusty, but I learned how easy it was to share emotions with my host family even when the words couldn’t come to mind. I learned to live without technology for over a week and it was freeing. I was not caught up in what was going on in my friend’s lives and I was able to enjoy soaking in the beauty of the nature that Costa Rica has to offer.

My view of America has changed as a result of this trip. I had never lived anywhere else but in the states my whole life and being able to live with real Costa Rican families for a couple days at a time was a really enjoyable experience since I could see how down to earth and simple they lived their lives compared to us Americans. Everyone in Costa Rica was so naturally fit and they were used to trekking miles upon miles of hills in the rainforest. The community I got to spend time with was so friendly when we played soccer games with them and seemed to genuinely enjoy our company. Coming back to America, I can’t get over how different my daily life is compared to in Costa Rica and how different my tasks and goals are. Living in Costa Rica has changed me for the better and has taught me to appreciate the simple joys in life and to spend more time in nature because it was able to heal me in more ways than one.

Travelling with 13 girls and my trip leaders who were all strangers to me was a big step out of my comfort zone. Luckily I was placed in a group with the most amazing people with the most incredible of backgrounds. As a business student with an engineering sciences minor, I have been surrounded by business and engineering students for the majority of my time here at OSU. This trip exposed me to people studying Zoology and Geography and minoring in Dance and all these fascinating academic subjects that I had never really considered before. These girls taught me how to enjoy my time in college by truly doing what I am interested in and how everything is not always about going full speed ahead. I have been so stressed about finding a summer internship and planning my future that I am wasting my good years in college by being a worrywart when I could be enjoying my last years doing what I want to before I become a full on adult.

Climbing the Red Hill was the hardest hike I have ever completed in my life. My group and I were so underprepared for the physical activities that were included on this trip, but we managed to get through them all together. The worst part about the Red Hill was that is was a serpentine path going up a mountain and you never knew if there was going to be another incline after the next turn. Every single step up that hill I wanted to be my last. It was so steep that it was more comfortable for me to be bent over rather than standing straight up. Manos and Daniel (a boy from the community) were able to climb the hill no problem and our group was slowing them down tremendously. They were supportive the entire time, but I could not help but notice how fit they were and how they were not suffering anywhere near as much as the rest of our group. We enjoyed a homemade lunch wrapped in banana leaves at the top of the hill, which was the perfect end to the mentally and physically exhausting hike.

When my group broke off into pairs and stayed with a family for two nights, I was able to grow closer to my friend, Camryn, as well as one of the members of our host family, Mario. My favorite memories from these days were playing cards with Camryn and Mario. We taught Mario how to play Egyptian Rats Snake and he loved it. Games are a great way to bond with the locals because we were all able to have fun and work around the language barrier. One memory I won’t ever forget is when Mario cut two, fresh coconuts off the tree in his yard for both me and Camryn and we downed them in five minutes because we were so thirsty after the soccer game. It tasted so fresh and good, but the next morning, Camryn and I both woke up to crazy diarrhea that we suffered through the remainder of the trip. This is a funny memory looking back even though we both got sick from the coconuts. In a weird way, we bonded over it and it made us closer as roommates and as friends.

Escaping my life as a student at OSU for 11 days had the biggest effect for me. My mind is always cluttered with thoughts about academics, internships, and work as well as daily things I constantly worry about. Being able to get out of the country and as far away from campus as I could is what truly helped clear my mind and put me at ease. My only concerns were about my mosquito bites and if I was able to shower that night while on the trip. I loved being able to remove myself from the hustle and bustle of my life here at OSU and really dive into every excursion and event planned for us on the trip. There are so many interesting fruits and plants in Costa Rica, I feel like Manos stopped on the trail every five minutes to show us something that isn’t found in America. My appreciation for other countries and their culture has grown immensely and I am so glad I could remember a little bit of my Spanish to attempt to communicate with the locals. There is so much that Costa Rica has to offer that I would never be able to experience in America, and because of this, I am so grateful to have been selected as a participant on this trip.

Knowing that I am stronger than I had originally thought has affected me so powerfully as I have returned to school. I really do feel invincible and I mean that in the best way possible. Going on this trip has really fueled my desire to never stop learning or exploring or trying new things. I am eager to do anything out of the ordinary now and I am always searching for the next great adventure. This trip has really taught me to appreciate my life and now I definitely don’t plan on wasting another moment worrying about grades or the future when I could be enjoying the present.

This change affects my academic, personal, and professional goals equally because I am now so intrigued by everything life has to offer and how resilient I’ve become to difficulties thrown at me, that I want to try everything. I am no longer as concerned about landing the perfect internship or having a perfectly healthy diet, I just want to live my life exactly the way that I feel like and I have faith the the right opportunities will present themselves to me if I let them.

Camryn and I with one of our host family members, Mario

Taking a break after a long hike

Costa Rican Adventure

My STEP project with Buck-i-SERV to Costa Rica involved learning about the culture there and how some of its citizens live and sustain themselves through actively engaging with the families and helping with their daily activities such as making brown sugar. We also learned about their environment through activities such as hiking, excursions to a cave and white-water rafting.  We also helped out the community of Brujo by helping to work on constructing parts of their community center.

I had never been out of the country before so I didn’t go into this trip with much expectations or assumptions simply because I had no idea what I was about to encounter. This trip definitely gave me perspective into how other people live around the world with actual interactions, rather than just reading something on Twitter. On our trip, everywhere we stayed was a homestay. This was the most valuable part of the trip because we truly got to peak into their lives. It was interesting to see how differently we lived but how many similarities we shared.

Over the course of the trip we stayed with four host families. Each family was immensely warm and welcoming. They were all completely self sufficient off the use of their land from growing sugar cane to raising cattle. They took us in and taught us how they lived day to day which included making sugar, tortillas, bread, butter and killing a chicken. We also learned how things around the house such as how they cook meals and traveled to and from their houses in the middle of the rainforest.

My favorite homestay was when we were paired up with another member on the trip and stayed with a family for three nights in the town of Brujo. At these home-stays, most of the families didn’t speak any English and we didn’t have our Costa Rican guides with us so it was a fun challenge to communicate with our host family. We talked much about how each other lived and had some really great conversations.

Throughout our trip the guides also took us on many excursions from white water rafting to repelling off a waterfall. The activities we did are similar to activities we could do back here, however our guides made the experience much more special by teaching us about the Costa Rican environment by pointing out and describing the many, many different types of plants and animals that were there.

This trip was valuable because it taught and showed us a different culture outside of our own. One of the most valuable skills in life is to be able to have an open mind and to learn and understand the differences between yourself and other people/cultures. This trip gave me the ability to expand upon that skill while gaining many great friendships along the way.

 

 

Buck-i-SERV: Constru Casa in Antigua, Guatemala

On December 16th, my Buck-i-SERV group arrived in Antigua, Guatemala. Our service was in collaboration with Constru Casa, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing housing for Guatemalans living in poverty. During this week, my group completed multiple tasks that were necessary for the completion of the house including: digging trenches, mixing cement, placing cement blocks to create the walls of the house, and working together with the masons and the family to complete the house on December 22nd.

During the duration of my trip, I learned a lot about myself, the culture of Guatemala, and of the poverty that was prevalent there. I had assumed that the masons from Constru Casa were gonna give us simple, “easy” work. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the physical work was tough  but extremely rewarding at the end of the day. I felt challenged everyday but in a good way. I learned to push past my doubts in order to accomplish the duties for each day. My thoughts about the culture and poverty of Guatemala transformed during the course of my trip too. I thought the people in Guatemala would be discontent with their situations. While the burden of poverty was extremely prevalent during our stay, I noticed how differently the people of Guatemala approached life. The families were tightly-knit and always willing to lend a hand to one another. The children were outgoing and friendly. Despite not having much, the Guatemalans are a people full of authenticity, selflessness, and unending perseverance.

One specific person that led to my transformation of mindset was our host mother, Elvira. One night during dinner, Elvira told us a little about herself and her life as a mother. During this time, she spoke about the struggle that she and her husband faced when their second son was ready for school. They barely afforded putting their first son through school and did not think they could make such a sacrifice again. Their second son pointed out how important an education was to his future and Elvira knew that she couldn’t refuse such an important thing. So Elvira got a job and her husband worked more hours so that they could make their son’s dream a reality. I realized how something that may seem second-nature to me such as education, may be an incredibly difficult battle for families in Guatemala.

The hardworking attitude of Guatemalans is present across all ages. I learned that on my first day of service. Our group was building a house for a grandma and grandpa whose daughters and grandchildren were living them. Our very first task was removing the rubble of the old house so that we could make space for the new structure. Every member of the family helped us with this including the grandma. I noticed that the grandma looked extremely tired after about half an hour of moving old stones. Despite her fatigue, she continued to work until all of the work was completed. I realized how resilient and full of strength this family I was working with truly was.

Lastly, view of the culture in Guatemala was transformed by a little boy who would walk near our site on occasion. Although we clearly looked out of place and did not speak much Spanish, this little boy always said “Hola” to us with the biggest smile. He radiated pure innocence and joy and I could not help but compare his behavior to children I’ve interacted with back home. In the U.S., a lot of children are fixated with technology and games. They are not nearly as out going and content with their lives as this little boy from Guatemala.

The transformation I experienced from my trip to Guatemala will stay with me forever. It was a service trip that I will truly never forget. It has instilled in me a desire to continue my global service and learn about other cultures and ways of life. The sheer strength and resilience that people living in poverty and oppression hold attributes to their ability to rise out of their circumstances if they are provided with the necessary means

 

Buck-I-SERV & OAC – Costa Rica

I attended a trip to Costa Rica through both Buck-I-SERV and the Outdoor Adventure Center. On this trip, we hiked, rappelled down a waterfall, went spelunking, white water rafted, surfed, and obviously completed community service. For the service portion of the trip, we built bathrooms for a community building and stayed with the families in that community.

This trip was an incredible learning experience, more so than I could have imagined. I learned a lot about myself, Costa Rica and the people there, and the other trip participants as well. I spent this entire trip without my cell phone, which is a rare occurrence in this era. Not having my phone for ten days was so fulfilling – I felt present on this trip and really took it all in. Cell phones divide your attention, and without that problem, I got the most out of my experience on this trip. I did not worry about keeping up with social media or what my friends and family at home were doing on a daily basis, and it was really cleansing. I lived in the moment on this trip, and it was so much easier to be detached from my phone than I thought. Also, I think I became more daring and adventurous along the way. I did not know very much about Costa Rica going into this, but I learned so much more than I ever thought I would from a trip like this one. We learned about the recent hurricane that swept through Costa Rica and caused a lot of destruction, from mud slides to river flooding to a crashed helicopter; we learned about the different flora and fauna of Costa Rica and which plants were edible or had other purposes; we learned how the people in rural Costa Rica live and are mostly self-sufficient; we learned what the basic diet for the people there is; and we learned how close their communities are. In regard to the trip participants, the group comprised of all girls, not including our two trip leaders. I never imagined I would have such a good time with a group of 14 girls, but we all meshed so well on this trip and I learned a lot about each and every one of them. There was no drama, just a lot of laughing and bonding and learning together.

All this enlightenment opened up my eyes to many things. First, there is a lot more going on in the world than is covered by U.S. media – I had never even heard about this hurricane that swept through Costa Rica or the devastation it caused. It ruined roads, it killed people, it destroyed homes. We saw first-hand some of the destruction caused by this tropical storm, and it really made me think about how I do not know much, if anything, about world news and that I need to pay more attention to what is going on around me. On a more positive note, throughout the trip we learned about the native plants and animals in Costa Rica, which I did not expect to be a part of this experience. There are many plants in the rainforest that are edible and have useful qualities, which I never would have thought about while walking through the rainforest, let alone at a park at home. While I now know about edible and useful plants in Costa Rica, this encouraged me to start learning about the native flora in Ohio and which plants can be eaten or used for something. It was also so eye-opening to learn about the rural Costa Rica lifestyle – how the families are so close, so self-sufficient, and so kind. I loved the sense of community here, everyone waved to each other in passing or knew each other, which is a fresh experience compared to big city vibes in Columbus, where people aren’t always so friendly and everyone is in a rush to get to the next place. In turn, I realized that I actively partake in this lack of community around campus, and that I should try and reflect in my own life at home this sense of community in Costa Rica. Finally, I was much more outgoing on this trip than I am in my regular daily life. Jelling with this group of girls really brought out a worry-free, social side of me that I did not know I was capable of. I could not imagine a better group with whom to experience this trip.

Our guides from Autentico Adventures, Manos and Abraham, made this trip exponentially more fun and educational. I truly believe that, had they not been there, this trip would not have been nearly as great. Our group really connected with this pair of brothers, and by the end of the trip I wished they were coming home with us; they were a part of the group now. These two brightened the mood when we were discouraged and maintained good vibes the entire trip. They told us about their lives, showed us all the plants and wildlife along our trip, and made us part of the community at every homestay. They pointed out and told us about the hurricane damage, showed us the self-sufficient lifestyle, and obviously gave us the high-adventure experience, too. I will never forget all the times Manos came up behind me and barked like a chihuahua and scared the living daylights out of me; or when Abraham kicked a boulder down the side of the mountain, and without even turning around Manos yells, “No Abraham, come back!”; or when Manos got way ahead of us on a hike then waited in a tree to scare us; or when they completely owned us playing soccer with the community; or when Manos commanded his raft to ambush ours and pulled us all out of our raft; or when we met their family and got to know them. When we stayed at their parents’ home, they taught us how they process sugar cane and make it into solid blocks of sugar that they keep to use in juices and cooking. They also taught us how they make tortillas and we experienced having to kill one of their chickens for dinner. While the chicken experience was upsetting, it is necessary for their self-sufficiency – they can’t just run to the grocery store and buy some chicken. Their grocery stores are nowhere near their homes and they have to hike to get there.

I stepped way out of my comfort zone on this trip with all of the adventure we partook in: I hiked harder than I knew I was capable of, I went spelunking in a cave despite my discomfort with tight spaces, I rappelled down a 90-foot waterfall even though I am not keen on heights, I white-water rafted, I surfed, I woke up when the sun rose and went to sleep when it set. These were new experiences I never imagined I would have, and it really opened me up to new things. It also entailed that I needed to be super hydrated in order to keep up with all of the activity, which I am not good about at home. I now drink a lot more water every day than I used to. Our trip leaders really advocated self-care on this trip. It also immensely helped to get through these new experiences with the other girls on the trip. We all supported each other and found humor in everything.

Moreover, the service we completed was hard manual labor, and it was a great experience. Mixing concrete with a shovel taught me I am much stronger than I thought, but that I could also probably lift some weights in my free time. I hauled sand bags, shoveled stones, plastered a wall, mixed concrete, and swept, and it was all a lot more strenuous than I expected. But I did it, and while I may not have done it as fast as the men in the community we worked alongside, I like to think I did a good job. I felt very productive, and staying with the families in the community added to the experience. Erica and I stayed with Mario and his parents, and we had a great time with them. Mario is a river guide for Autentico Adventures, so he does the white-water rafting. He is our age, so we became friends with him really fast and played cards with him every night we stayed there. We are even friends on Facebook and Snapchat now, so we keep in touch and I love it! Getting to know the community in which we completed our service made our time there so much more valuable, and playing soccer with the whole community after a day of work was so much fun. This allowed us to get to know more people than just the families we stayed with. While the adventure portion of the trip was very fun, the service portion was just as great.

This service trip was so valuable to me. Everything I learned about myself can be reflected in my life here in Ohio, too. I want to be more connected to the OSU community after seeing the welcoming sense of community in Costa Rica. I want to take advantage of all the opportunities here to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. I want to learn more about the native plants here and be more knowledgeable of my home state of Ohio. I want to be more globally aware of current events. I want to stay friends with all the wonderful people I met on this trip. I want to give back more to my community, as well as continue attending Buck-I-SERV trips. I am less attached to my cell phone. I also already am studying zoology and want to work in conservation in the future, but this trip strengthened my desire to work in conservation after seeing all the beautiful wildlife there and knowing that it is so valuable to the ecosystems. After this trip, I would really like to go on another international service trip and hope to continue service throughout the rest of my life. This Buck-I-SERV and OAC trip to Costa Rica was truly a transformational experience, and I wish I could live it over again.

Shoveling dirt at our service site

OHIO on our hike (spot the other OHIO in the background)

 

Juicing sugar cane at one of the homestays

Costa Rica Service Trip

This past winter break, I was given the opportunity to go to Cartago in Costa Rica for a week. I was able to help out in daycares during the mornings (taught them English, how to read and other activities) and enjoy cultural experiences in the afternoon. The trip was definitely unique in the fact that it was not though Ohio State, but rather a volunteer based organization called Cross Cultural Solutions. I was thankful to have met somebody on my trip from Ohio State who I really connected with.

I was a little tentative to go on this trip speaking no Spanish prior to traveling. How would I communicate with any of the people and even the children I was supposed to be helping? Thankfully the Ohio State girl on my trip, Maria, was a Spanish minor. She helped to bridge the language barrier gap which I was thankful for. We also received two Spanish lessons during the course of the week, which helped a lot.

The expectations of me during this trip seemed to be drastically different than what I had expected going in. The tasks that Maria and I were doing at the daycare seemed a little like glorified babysitting rather than helping people in need. The lady that ran the daycare was on location the whole time we were there, critiquing our teaching methods it seemed like at every moment. However, after a few days we learned that she had a harder exterior due to the conditions she had. The government was only giving her $40 a month to run her daycare for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. That is insane! Learning perspectives and prejudices people have is so important in being able to figure out what they want from you. I felt like once I was able to get a better understanding of what the Tia in charge as well as our Cross Cultural site manager wanted, the days got easier and easier.

Not taking anything for granted is a big take away I had from this trip. During my stay in Costa Rica, I noticed that all the citizens bragged so much about how educated they were but they neglected the greater portion of the country who is being raised by single mothers. Not having much is hard, especially when your whole life is at stake. It really touched my heart by the third day when our Tia thanked us for coming and told us that she liked what we were doing with her children. She trusted us enough to ask for help when I could tell that she was a very headstrong woman. Earning the trust of a stranger who spoke a different language than me was hard but it made me realize the importance of body language. Self expression is so underrated as a way to express feelings and gratitude.

One of the days, some of the girls kept asking Maria to write down phrases on drawings they had made for me. They said things like “Elizabeth you are my sister” and “I love you, thank you.” This seemed to make me realize why I was there. I was not sure how I felt about Cross Cultural solutions and how their organization was run, but I was very happy at that moment that I was at the daycare helping those children. Who knows what their homes had waiting for them when they got home? The snacks the Tia made them may have been their biggest meal of the day.

From that moment onward, I strived to communicate as best as I could with the children and do the most that I could. I have since then been trying to live by the motto of doing the most that I can in the shortest amount of time as I can. I have been super busy and healthy since returning from Costa Rica and I can thank my mindset from that trip. This is a personal growth goal that I have have wanted to achieve for a long time now.

I think that this trip was very beneficial to my experience as a pre-occupational therapy student. I really want to be able to help children reach their full potential whatever it takes no matter the handicap attached to it. I was able to do a lot of motor cognition, memory, and visual concept learning with them which was a great experience to have. Learning to not judge a situation by its cover was a big part of this trip for me and will not only help me with my future occupation, but just as a person interacting with others. Opening yourself to people and hearing their stories and experiences creates for more a more well roundedness persona.

   

Helping children learn colors and animals in English with the use of visual cues and demonstration.

Buck-I-SERV: Costa Rica

My STEP Signature Project was a Service and Adventure trip to Costa Rica. Half of the trip was adventure put on by the OAC which included hiking, bat cave exploring, rafting, and surfing. The other half of the trip was service in the small town of Brujo where we helped build part of their community center by making and mixing concrete, plastering walls, and laying bricks.

One of the largest obstacles I had to overcome on my trip was myself. There is a point when you are completing a 7-mile hike up the red hill (it was actually a mountain) on day 1 that all you want to do is give up, get on a plane and go home. This trip taught me the real meaning of pushing through once your brain says to give up. I pushed myself more over the course of these 10 days than I ever have before. Between the strenuous physical activities and the mental battles that came with, this trip taught me I am stronger than I ever believed I could be.

On our first drive through Costa Rica and while rafting down the Savegre my eyes where finally opened to what happens in the aftermath of a natural disaster. A lot of the areas we were in were hit hard by hurricane Nate in October. Months later you can still see the devastation along the river banks; pieces of homes, broken bridges, and homes still left without electricity. Something that really put all of this into perspective was while we were driving one of the guides pointed out a big tree, he told us to look at the river and see that it was flowing on the right side of the tree. He then looked at us and said, “before the hurricane it used to flow on the left.” This brought into perspective the power of a destruction a natural disaster really has. Being from Ohio when a hurricane hits the coast I know it is terrible and I feel bad but when I turn off my phone or the news the hurricane is gone. I was never before able to experience what living in the aftermath was like. One of the homes we stayed in could only have electricity for a couple hours a day because they were still living off a generator. This trip changed my view and outlook on the world than the events that occur that might not directly affect my life but do still affect thousands.

As I spoke about above one of the biggest events of my trip for me was the realization of how much natural disasters really do affect people’s lives for months and years after they stop showing it in the news. I think one of the biggest reasons this hit me so hard is because of all the relationships I was able to form over the course of the trip. Manos and Abraham were our two guides throughout the entire trip and these have to be the two most generous people I have ever met. Abraham at the time had a daughter months old, yet he chose to be with us and give us everything he had. Every day he would show us pictures and we would watch his face light up. I have never met a person like Manos, I would have to say he is one of the main reasons we all became so close on the trip. His personality just brought us all together and really enhanced everything we did.

Another impactful relationship I was able to form was with the family of Wendy, Sophia, and Johel. Wendy graciously invited me and one other member from our trip into her home for 3 days while we were completing our service in her town. Wendy brought us into her family not only by giving us a place to stay and food but by trying her best to interact with us (she spoke no English and we spoke no Spanish) and really make her home feel like ours. I was excited to wake up there every morning because I knew Sophia and Johel were waiting outside our door to say good morning and be by our sides until we left for the day. On our last morning in Wendy’s home Johel came to the realization that it was our last day with them and became very upset. This is when I realized how much we meant to them.

Lastly, as I spoke about earlier rafting was another one of the times that I was able to see up close all of the damage of hurricane Nate. For a short while, while in the raft one of the founders of Authentico Adventures was in my raft. This was a really cool experience because I was able to ask a lot of questions. Through the rafting experience he kept pointing out sections of the river that were much larger than they used to be or sections were rapids had completely changed. He talked a lot about how the river guides had to relearn the river after they had essentially mastered it. It was an eye-opening experience to be in the damage of a hurricane.

I feel like my personal transformation occurred before this trip had even started. My transformation was with my very first Buck-I-SERV trip almost a year ago. I had always loved to give back and wanted to do more and this is why I signed up for my first trip. This is when I fell in love with the Buck-I-SERV alternative break program. This program lets me fuel my want to help people and gives me a fun and educational environment to do so. My trip to Costa Rica exponentially boosted my want to serve. The cultural immersion pushed me out of my comfort zone and let me realize that just because I may not be able to directly communicate with someone we can still impact each other’s lives. This trip has also, as I keep reiterating, opened my eyes to the direct devastation of natural disasters and how they continue to affect people months or years after the news stopped caring. This affects my professional goals because it solidifys that I want to dedicate my life to helping people and being a forensic anthropologist will help me do this. For my future plans, I have already signed up for a hurricane relief Buck-I-SERV trip for this upcoming spring break and I plan to do many more over my last 2 years here at Ohio State.

A description of the personality of Manos perfectly

The hike on the dreaded Red Hill

Mixing plaster at the service site in Brujo

My host family Wendy, Sophia, and Johel

Successfully hiking the Red Hill and second time

The last day of the trip at Playa Uvita where none of us had ever surfed but all of us were able to stand.